Juwan Howard, Eli Brooks, Terrance Williams and Hunter Dickinson were on the podium after Michigan’s comeback win over Tennessee.
COACH HOWARD: I just want to say I want to take my hats off to Coach Rick Barnes and Tennessee. It was a well-played, very competitive game, as you guys witnessed.
Quick turnaround. To try to prep for Tennessee is not easy. They have so much balance on the floor from shooting, length, rebounding, and also one of the best coaches in college basketball.
Really appreciate how our staff did a quick turnaround, all hands on deck, helped me with the prep. I admired how the players came out and competed start to finish after being down at halftime. Collectively it was a total team effort.
Q. Hunter, Eli, can you talk about the minutes that Terrance gave you down the stretch and how big that proved to be?
ELI BROOKS: In the huddle we talk about him being a dog, being the toughest, nastiest out there. And those two rebounds and put-backs were big to keep the momentum going. We know he can do it, and I’m just happy for him.
HUNTER DICKINSON: This has been my guy since, you know, day one, since I started playing B-ball. He’s a prime-time player. But I don’t care how much minutes he plays, or what, my man is going to make winning plays when he’s out there, and he did that today. We don’t win without Terrance Williams II today.
Q. Juwan, you were seen consoling Kennedy Chandler on Tennessee. What can you say about what you told him?
COACH HOWARD: Kennedy is an elite player, and he’s one of the best guards in the country. I got a chance to know Kenny back when my youngest son, Jett, and Kennedy played in AAU, and they won the LeBron James tournament in Ohio. So we had a relationship back then.
Just watching his growth, I’ve always been impressed. We recruited him, unfortunately, we wasn’t that lucky, but to see the output, the effort, the growth and being able to produce like that on the floor and how he led his team in a special way. I gave him words of encouragement. It shows his emotion, that he cares. As coaches, you appreciate that.
Q. Eli, you made a lot of runners, a lot of floaters in your career. Can you walk us through the hook shot and how that possession unfolded?
ELI BROOKS: I got a little deeper than I wanted to, so I didn’t have that great of an angle for the backboard. The best option was going straight at the basket.
Q. Hunter, I know Terrance and Jace were joking yesterday that you were saying you guys should scrimmage the managers to get the loss —
HUNTER DICKINSON: We did, we did — was giving me some bucket out there earlier today.
Q. Can you speak to how cognizant you were of that streak and what your message was, as the leader of the team, to your guys about it?
HUNTER DICKINSON: They put it up in our lockers before the Indiana game about the recent trend. We were well aware of it for a while now, and it’s definitely been wearing on us. But there is no better time to break the streak than now, I guess.
Q. You’re down 6, and turnovers have been an issue, and Tennessee’s defense is doing what it does; what did you find with 8 minutes left in yourselves?
TERRANCE WILLIAMS II: I felt like we stayed connected during our time. Like you said, we turned the ball over, things weren’t going our way. But being the most connected team is what Coach Howard talks about, and we were the most connected team, and we didn’t go our separate ways even though we were making mistakes.
Q. Forget the streak of not winning two in a row, to play your best basketball now over these last few days, when the season is on the line, how do you explain that, how well you guys are playing after a roller coaster year?
ELI BROOKS: I don’t think we’re playing our best basketball, like to our potential. We still have a lot of mistakes that we have to clean up. Turnovers, miscommunication. That’s the scary thing with this team. If we keep on staying connected, good things are going to happen down the line.
Q. Hunter, question for you. What’s it like to play with these guys? Michigan has just been so strong in so many sports this year, but what’s it like for you to wear that M and think, man, this is my team?
HUNTER DICKINSON: It means a lot. That’s one of the reasons why I ended up choosing Michigan, was the pedigree and the tradition of winning, like, you know, comes to football, basketball, hockey, you know, I mean, we got field hockey, just seems like everybody is winning at Michigan.
And there is a prestige that comes with wearing that block M that I don’t take lightly and something I wear proudly when I walk out here with Michigan across my chest.
Q. Eli, you’ve put that uniform on so many times in your career. As time is running down, are you thinking about getting a chance to wear that uniform one more time? What does it mean to you to get here after the ups and downs you have had this year?
ELI BROOKS: That’s definitely in the back of my mind, but I’m just trying to live in the moment right now and cherish the time that we have with the people that are in my life right now at Michigan and just enjoy the process of going through this tournament again and having that chance of getting our last goal.
Q. Juwan, I do know you don’t like to talk about personal feelings, but I did witness the embrace between you and a couple of your fellow famous Michigan alums, Chris Weber, Mark Hughes at the end of the game. How important was it for you to share this moment with them?
COACH HOWARD: It was a beautiful moment to be here and to witness guys that I’ve been in the trenches with, Chris Weber, Jalen Rose, Ray Jackson, and then to see my big brother, Mark Hughes, a guy that helped recruit me to come here to the University of Michigan.
Mark told me back when I was in high school that my years at Michigan would be years that would mold me into a man; that if I continue to stay here and grow, I would have a lot of success and become a champion.
To see him out here supporting this team and taking time from their schedule, away from their families, it means a lot. I will never forget this day, and I appreciate all the support. They have behind the scenes been in my corner from day one.
Q. Hunter, your stat line, 27 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists. Can you talk about how proud you are of your performance today and what it means to take this team to the Sweet 16?
HUNTER DICKINSON: Hey, man, just being able to play in the NCAA Tournament is a dream come true for any basketball player. It’s something that we’ve been — every kid grows up watching the NCAA Tournament, and being able to play good in it is an amazing experience.
Obviously, being a big man, you know, you can’t — you really don’t get the ball without your teammates. So obviously I have to give a shout-out to them because they find me in great spots. The coaching staff puts me in great positions to score. They make it easy for me out there.
And making it to the Sweet 16 is, as literal as it is, sweet because nobody believed in us. Everybody thought we shouldn’t be in the tournament. And now people that were hating on us are going home and about to watch us next week.
Q. Eli or T, the three ball, I think Tennessee hit 14 on Thursday, 2 of 18 from the perimeter. Talk about the emphasis on protecting the arc and how that turned into a W for you?
TERRANCE WILLIAMS II: That was mostly in the game plan, guarding the perimeter. They had shooters, their guard play, Vescovi is definitely a big shooter. But one of the of game plans was to guard the three-point line. I felt like we did our job today in guarding that three-point line. They went 2 for 18, and I think we did our part.
ELI BROOKS: Just piggyback off T-Will, that was the main focus. Run ’em off the line and stay down on shot fakes, we did that. That was the biggest key of winning the game.
Q. Eli, you said that your team hasn’t even reached its potential yet. What has to be done to reach that?
ELI BROOKS: I think making simple plays. Sometimes we get sped up, we play out of character. Just maturing in that aspect and trusting one another.
Q. A lot of unusual things happened this season, from the COVID shutdown to having to play games without your key players to the incident in Wisconsin. Behind the scenes, can you describe the emotion this year? Were there any moments that were dicey for this team? And if there weren’t, what held you guys together?
ELI BROOKS: There wasn’t really any doubt that this team is special. That starts with our coach believing in us and just the group of guys that are in the locker room.
We have a good group of guys that have the same drive, the same passion. And that’s a credit to Juwan, the coaching staff, finding those guys out there that you like to be around.
There wasn’t a second that anybody shied away, and bought into the system, and we’re in the Sweet 16. So it’s good to see.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen. Questions for Coach Howard.
Q. Coach, can you talk about the decision to go zone there when they were he getting downhill on you and how that changed the game?
COACH HOWARD: It definitely helped keep Kennedy Chandler as well as Zeigler out of the paint. Like I mentioned earlier, they’re very smart, crafty, fast guards that do a very good job of getting in the paint, making plays at the rim.
And give the bigs credit as well, they do a good job of sealing to keep our bigs on their back. But Moussa, Hunter, there were moments when they contested the rim, made some winning plays, whether it was a block shot or altered some shots. But Kenny is tough. One of the best guards we’ve faced all year.
Q. Coach, you’ve been around the game a long time, seen a lot of things. What is special about this group of kids that have faced adversity, and here they are going to the Sweet 16? And what does that mean to you?
COACH HOWARD: Starts at home with their parents. They have done an amazing job of raising some fine young men that trust, that believe in the leadership, whether it’s myself and the other staff. There has never been a moment where one of our guys have been one foot in and one foot out. They bought into the culture, trusted in the culture. And I always gave credit to the parents of doing an amazing job of raising fine young men.
Yes, that’s one of the things when I identify recruiting is character. Character is huge with me.
Q. Juwan, Jace said yesterday that Eli provided a nice blueprint for how to step up your game in March in the NCAA Tournament. What have you seen from him this week on and off the court obviously with it being his last NCAA Tournament?
COACH HOWARD: I always said Xavier Simpson was one of the best leaders to ever put on a Michigan uniform. But I also have to give that, 1A, 1B, to Eli Brooks. He’s everything when it comes to being a Michigan man, what he’s done on the floor, what he’s done off the floor, with his development, growing as a man, being able to adjust to different cultures, Coach Beilein and now myself.
We’ve been together for three years, and this young man earned the right to be a captain at the University of Michigan because the way I’ve seen him and his growth. It’s going to be tough to replace a guy like that. He’s irreplaceable.
And if he ever wants a job, wants to join my coaching staff, if he ever wanted to get into coaching, I would truly hire him because he’s a smart player, knows how to play. He has an infectious personality that people enjoy being around.
Q. You guys had DeVante’ from the start, but you didn’t have him for too long. Can you give us an update? And big minutes for Frankie, again, the scoring wasn’t what it was the other day, but he finishes plus 13?
COACH HOWARD: I was told by my trainer at halftime that he couldn’t go in the second half, and that’s all I can tell you. With that, help is everything with us. It was hurtful to see that he couldn’t come back in the second half because this kid, he wanted to be a part of — been living for this moment, first time being in the NCAA Tournament.
But what he did in the first half was pretty impressive, too, not having practices, then coming out there and giving everything he could. But Frankie stepped up once again. And I recruited him; I know what he can do.
They’re different guards, but they both add something totally different that I feel puts a lot of pressure on our opponents.
Q. Hunter with 27 points tonight. Can you speak to his performance? And going into the match-up with Tennessee, did you feel like he would be able to have his way offensively?
COACH HOWARD: Well, he is so humble, talking to you guys, but sometimes you see him on the floor, you might think he’s arrogant. But he plays with a lot of emotion. One thing you didn’t say is Hunter works hard, man. He’s behind the scenes. He puts in the work.
And how I know, because individually him and I work together on player development, before practice, sometimes after practice, on off days, when we are allowed to, as coaches, to work with our guys.
So when you put in the work, you’re going to get good results. It’s no surprise to me how he’s been able to produce so far two years here at the University of Michigan. To come out and compete like the way he did today, I told him we were going to you on the inside. You’re the backbone of our team, and be ready. I also asked him to be greedy. And what does that mean? Be aggressive.
Thank you guys, appreciate it. Go Blue.